Overcoming Obstacles while Striving for Education

Overcoming Obstacles while Striving for Education

Two Mountain View students share their stories.

Students at Mountain View High have to overcome significant obstacles in their lives en route to graduation. So the speeches given by the grad speakers are always the highlights of each ceremony. And the ones given last week by Giovanni Pineda-Maradiaga and Sofia Canizalez Duran were no exception.

Giovanni Pineda-Maradiaga

He was born in the U.S., but his family is from El Salvador, and he said Mountain View changed his perspective. “At my base school, I believed I didn’t need an education to be successful,” he said. “But I came here to a smaller school, in my sophomore year, to make a fresh start. I remembered I was going to school, not just for me, but because of my mom. She sacrificed to come to the United States for a better life for her family.”

“Here at Mountain View, feeling a close, positive and supportive relationship with my teachers helped me improve with higher levels of achievement. I also figured out I do need an education to be successful in the future. I’m a first-generation Latino American and the first in my family to graduate. First and foremost, I’d like to thank my hero and best friend, my mother. It’s because of all her sacrifices that I’m standing before you today. She’s played both roles of mother and father and still continues to this day.”

Pineda-Maradiaga said he didn’t always get to see her because she went from job to job to provide for him and his siblings. “She dressed me like a Baby Gap model while she bought her own clothes in the clearance section,” he said. “As a little boy, the majority of the time I had to do my homework alone because my mom didn’t speak English. I watched her work two minimum-wage jobs and raise three kids by herself.”

As he grew older, he helped as much as he could, translating during doctors’ visits and paying bills in high school. He also had to learn how to apply to college on his own. But, said Pineda-Maradiaga, “I didn’t have the option to fail.” And eventually, his mom was able to help him write speeches and study for tests.

“My mom serves to remind me that God does exist, looking after her and admiring how strong and courageous she is, after all the obstacles she’s overcome,” he said. “I’m very proud, but also scared, to be continuing my studies while also working to make ends meet.”

“My dream now is that my mother lives long enough for me to pay back everything she gave me through her sacrifices,” continued Pineda-Maradiaga. Addressing her directly, he said, “Thank you for always putting me first, helping me reach my dreams and loving me unconditionally. I love you, Mama.” He then recited that part of his speech to her in Spanish.

He also thanked his brother and sister for filling his life with laughter and fun, and his grandparents for always being there for him. “They couldn’t be here today, since they live in El Salvador, but their presence is always in my heart,” he said. Pineda-Maradiaga thanked his aunts, uncles and cousins for “giving me the foundation of family to stand upon,” and he acknowledged a particular uncle for being a father figure to him. 

He said his entire family’s hard work inspired him to become the person he is today. And he also thanked Mountain View’s teachers, administrators and staff for helping raise him and supporting his aspirations so he could move forward in life. Said Pineda-Maradiaga, “It took a village to raise me, and I’ll always be grateful for those who took part in it.”

Sofia Canizalez Duran

She began her speech by expressing her deepest gratitude to God, saying, “Without Him, none of this would have been possible. Today we say goodbye to high school to begin a new stage of learning in our futures. Our experience here will help us face whatever is to come. Thanks to Mountain View, I understand the true meaning of friendship, unity, solidarity and self-confidence.

“I am from El Salvador. I arrived in this country with my mother and younger sister in 2019. We had a long and difficult journey and were exposed to many dangers. But the most difficult thing for me was that I was threatened. I wanted to be in a safe place with my family and my child. And I appreciated the help of great friends that became part of my family.”

Canizalez Duran said she’s faced many challenges in her life. “One of them is being a mother and a student at the same time,” she said. “I have so many responsibilities that, at times, I have cried and have even thought about giving up. However, I have people who give me strength and always motivate me to move forward – and to whom I dedicate my achievement today.”

She said her partner, Noé, has always supported her unconditionally. “He has been my constant in the best and worst moments of my life,” said Canizalez Duran. “He’s a loving man and a supportive father to our children.” Addressing him directly, she said, “Amor, thank you for each of the sacrifices you’ve made to make your children and me happy every day. You know that I love you.”

“Also giving me strength are my two children, Josue and David,” she continued. “I want to be a good example for them, as my mother is for me, and show them that – with God’s help – everything is possible.” To her sister Fatima, she said, “You’ve taken care of my children and loved them as if they were your own. I love you and I will always be there for you.”

Canizalez Duran said her dad wasn’t at her graduation because he lives too far away, but she thanked him for giving her “an excellent education and a home where I could grow, evolve, make mistakes and learn. And I thank all my friends here for being part of my life and celebrating this achievement with me.” She then spoke to her mother in Spanish, appreciating the many important values she learned from her.

She also thanked her “beloved” teachers, naming several of them specifically, as well as her school counselor, Evelyn Clumpkens. “I have no words to thank you for everything you’ve done for me and your commitment and dedication,” said Canizalez Duran. “You all gave me your words and knowledge so I could go forward. You’ve been an important part of my motivation and inspiration throughout my school career. You’ve celebrated each of my achievements as if they were your own.

“Over time, God puts people in our path who leave a mark in our hearts. The entire Mountain View staff has created a beautiful memory that I will always carry in my heart. Congratulations to all my fellow graduates – we did it.”